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JAPAN TRIP APRIL 2007

JAPAN TRIP - APRIL 2007


BY SAUL SCHLAPIK "METSOX"

 

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I got the urge to go back to Japan last August/September.  I'd been there twice back in my college days in the late 70s.  In '77 I went with my folks on a package tour that also went to Taiwan and Hong Kong, in which I also went across the U.S. by train both ways.  A year later, I went back with a "Summer School Abroad" group from my college.  On both trips, I went off on my own to ride around on the trains and was able to sample just enough of the trains to satisfy my curiosity.  My fellow travelers in both groups freaked out when I told them how I had strayed from the cocoon of the tour and managed not to get lost.  Even though I'd never been overseas before, I felt totally comfortable riding the trains by myself because most of the station signs were also in English and you bought tickets from machines.  This was particularly useful the second time because I gave the professors information on how to get around.

 

Japan is a train freak's paradise.  What really impressed me was the sheer volume of trains there.  The first time I was there, my folks' hotel room faced the main line into Tokyo station and I tried counting the trains for ten minutes.  Twenty trains went by.

 

I've been to Europe nine times since those two trips and only once did I go with anyone and that was only for the first half of the trip (I went to London and Paris with my folks and my brother and then went to Amsterdam and Germany by myself).  After being able to figure out the trains in Japan, Europe was a piece of cake.  By this time I'd gone just about everywhere in Europe I want to go and ridden most of the trains I've wanted to ride.  Besides I want to get back to Japan before I hit the Big 5-0.

 

It's gotten to the point where I'd rather take my train vacations overseas because I've just about given up on Amtrak's long distance trains. After a few too many bad experiences and a government that's committed to keep making the same mistakes about transportation, the time has come to go elsewhere if I want to ride some good trains.  It's not like I haven't given Amtrak a chance.  I've gone cross country four times (both ways), traveled quite extensively by train in the Eastern portion of the U.S. and Canada.  I've taken the Canadian from Vancouver to Toronto once and still consider it to be the greatest train in the world, especially equipment-wise.

 

The last straw was seven years ago when I did the North America Railpass and the Capitol Ltd. left Chicago almost two hours late because they were waiting for mail cars from the Texas Eagle.  If an organization whose primary business is passenger service is going to give priority to the mail, the message speaks for itself.  I have actually ridden two long distance trains since then.  I took the CZ from Reno to Emeryville - 3:45 late and the Lake Shore from Boston to Chicago - 2:30 late and major screw-ups in the dining car.  I realize that some of my fellow "foamers" are grateful to have lousy train service instead of none at all but I've reached my limit of listening to excuses.  I still take the train from Boston to New York every few months to see my folks and do my usual NYC stuff.  Most of the time I take the Acela Exp (when it's actually running), mainly because it's a nicer train with big windows instead of gun slits and doesn't stop at every jerkwater town along the Connecticut coast.

 

Actually, I'm not crazy about sitting on an airplane forever and going places where I don't speak the language just to get a decent train ride.  I also resent the fact that I'm giving money to an industry that helped destroy America's passenger rail system.  However, the end justifies the means and you do what you gotta do.

 

As one would expect, a lot has changed on the Japanese rail scene in the last 29 years.  In 1987, Japanese National Railways were privatized and broken up into six passenger operating companies.  There are three on the main Island of Honshu; JR East, Central and West, as well as one for each of the outer islands of Hokkaido, Kyushu and Shikoku.  Privatization has brought a much greater variety of equipment, especially the Limited Expresses on conventional lines.  JR's conventional (pre-1964) lines are narrow gauge, 3'6"; while the Shinkansen (bullet train) tracks are standard gauge, 4'8".  Two new Shinkansen lines north of Tokyo have been built with three branches.  Part of the Kyushu Shinkansen has also opened.  The first two times, there was only one class of rolling stock on the Shinkansen, now there are twelve.  Four new subway lines have opened in Tokyo and at least three more in Osaka.


Planning trips like this is something I really enjoy.  Researching the information has never been easier, thanks to the internet.  Exploring all the possibilities and making up different itineraries for myself is a great way to get my mind off my mundane existence.

 

Two Acela trips to New York in November and March were an essential part of planning the trip.  The Japanese railway and tourist offices are in the same building in Rockefeller Center, and I was able to pick up plenty of free literature; brochures, timetables maps, etc.  On the second trip I bought an "exchange order" for a 14 day Japan Rail Pass to be exchanged for the actual pass once I arrive in Japan and get a "temporary visitor" stamp on my passport.  One thing that's changed is that US citizens no longer need a visa to visit Japan, just a valid passport.

 

The toughest decision I had to make was whether or not to go to Sapporo. From what I'd read about it, it seemed like a pretty interesting place with three subway lines and a couple trolley lines.  If I did go there, I'd get to ride through the Seikan tunnel, the world's longest underwater rail tunnel. I'd also have the chance to ride the Twilight Express, from Sapporo to Osaka, which is quite luxurious and the longest train ride in Japan.  Besides, I wanted to visit all four major islands.  On the other hand, I had a feeling that it would still be pretty cold in Hokkaido in early April.  The other problem was that Sapporo is so far from the rest of the areas I'd be visiting, about 10 1/2 hours from Tokyo by Shinkansen and two conventional trains.  I finally decided to leave Sapporo out because I'd be trying to do too much and be constantly racing the clock to get in everything I wanted.

 

The itinerary I finally decided on was two days in Tokyo, four in Osaka, four in Fukuoka on the island of Kyushu, an overnight train ride from Takamatsu on Shikoku back to Tokyo, where I'll spend six more days before flying home.  After checking several websites, I booked a United fight from Boston to Tokyo with a "change of equipment" in Chicago.  The hotels turned out to be much cheaper than I expected.  There are several "business hotels", which are basic, no-frills Western style hotels located right in the city centers.  My 16 hotel nights wound up costing an average of a little under $60 per night.

 

This trip is strictly for the purpose of riding trains, period.  This is why I have to do this by myself, so I can ride as many trains as I want and not have to compromise to anything somebody else might want to do.  I'm not particularly interested in seeing the usual tourist sights because I've already seen them before. 

 

I'm bringing three cameras; film, digital and video.

 

Sunday, April 1st

Changed my mind, I'm not going.  I just don't think I can stand being on an airplane that long or if I really want to deal with the jet lag or language barrier.  Besides, there's a band coming to town that I've wanted to see for the last year and a half, as well a "Rail-a- Rama" model train show (where I shop for books, videos & stuff) scheduled for the time I'm supposed to be away.  Not only that, the final season of The Sopranos starts in a week.  Hope I can get my money back for the plane tickets and the rail pass, but if not I can always go without that piece of bubble gum I've been saving up for . . . APRIL FOOL!

 

I hate flying.  I don't get scared, I get restless, so I have to bring along plenty of stuff to keep myself occupied.  This means bringing lots of stuff to read and plenty of CDs for my walkman.  The first time they brought around the drink cart on the flight from Chicago to Tokyo, I took Benadryl so I could get some sleep.  I have allergies anyway and when I asked a pharmacist about it, she said I'd be better off with Benadryl instead of any over-the-counter sleeping pills.  I'd go koo-koo if I had to be conscious for the entire 12 hour flight.

 

Monday, April 2nd

Landed at Narita Airport pretty much on time at 3:05 pm.  After clearing customs, I went to the JR East travel center to exchange the order for my Japan Rail Pass.  The staff spoke English and it went pretty smoothly.  I made sure that the pass would be valid starting on the 4th, instead of right away, so I could use it through all but the last two days in Tokyo.  I was also able to get the sleeping car reservation I wanted for the Sunrise Seto on the 12th.  They also had the new English timetable that had gone into effect a couple weeks before.

 

There are two fast trains from Narita Airport to downtown Tokyo; the privately operated Keisei Skyliner and JR East's Narita Express.  I had decided to take the Skyliner to Ueno station and then take the subway Hibiya line to Higashi (east) Ginza station to get to the hotel.  I was a bit worried about this because I'd be getting to Ueno during the height of the rush hour and Japan is notorious for its sardine-like conditions.  When I got to the Keisei ticket counter, they told me that the Skyliner wasn't running (I didn't bother to ask why).  For a few seconds I thought about taking the Narita Express and then taking the Skyliner on the way home, but it really wouldn't have made sense because the Skyliner would have been much further out of the way from my hotel in the Shinjuku district, where I'll be staying when I come back to Tokyo.  Besides, if I took the Narita Exp. to Tokyo station, I'd have to take two subway trains (one stop each) instead of one.

 

I decided to take the regular Keisei train to Aoto station, just outside the city, where I could change for a train that went into the Asakusa subway line, which goes right to Higashi-Ginza.  This turned out to be much easier because it was a cross-platform transfer.   In fact the Asakusa line was closer to my hotel than the Hibiya.  It only cost 1100 for both trains instead of 1920 for the Skyliner.  The train was called a "Limited Express" but to me it was a commuter train because the cars had four doors on each side.  Several subway lines in Japan have through service with private railways and JR lines.  The Asakusa interfaces with the Keisei at its north end and the Keihin Kyuko in the south.  As a result the line has quite a variety of rolling stock with trains from both railways as well as its own equipment.

 

After I checked into my hotel, I wasn't ready to crash out, so I went for a ride on the subway.  I picked up a 3000 Passnet card, a stored value ticket that's good for all the subways and private railways but not JR trains.  It lasted for the rest of my time in Tokyo, mainly because I also used day passes as well as my Japan Rail Pass.  I went on four trains altogether; the one I was most interested in was the new Namboku line.  I also made a point of ending the trip at the next station to the one where I started.  This is a trick I picked up riding the BART in San Francisco so I'd only be charged the minimum fare.

 

Tuesday, April 3rd

The landscape of Tokyo is defined by the Yamanote commuter line, which forms a continuous loop around the central city.  It's part of the national rail system and is almost entirely outdoors but it functions like an inner-city subway line.  The trains run every five minutes or less and has its own exclusive tracks, which run alongside other JR East lines for just about the whole circumference.  For the visiting railfan, it's an ideal way to get oriented; in fact it was the first train I ever rode in Japan.  JR's Chuo line is the only railway line that crosses through the Yamanote loop and for all other destinations inside the circle, one has to take the subway.  There are also several private railways, most of which terminate at Yamanote line stations, that fill in the gaps not covered by JR lines.


There are two subway systems in Tokyo, the Tokyo Metro, which has eight lines and a shuttle, and the Toei, which as four and the only trolley line in the city.  Each system has its own fare structure, but there are a couple of day passes that can be used for both.  I picked up a "Tokyo Free Kippu" pass, which is good for both subways and JR trains within the city.

 

This turned out to be a very rough day.  It rained just about all day long and my left knee was killing me.  It was particularly painful going down stairs but I was determined to ride as many trains as possible.  I wasn't able to take too many pictures because of the rain but did manage to get some video shots, which didn't come out all that well.

 

The first priority was to photograph the inbound Sunrise Exp., which is the sleeper train I'll be taking when I came back to Tokyo on the 13th.   I got a video shot of it at Shimbashi station, on the southern edge of the Ginza.  After that I went up and down the east side of the Yamanote line to find good photo spots.  Another sleeper train I wanted to photograph was the Casseopia from Sapporo, which is the most luxurious train in Japan.  It arrives at Ueno station and I went to the next stop to the north and managed to get an unobstructed view of it.  The rain really affected the quality of the video I was shooting, so I figured I'd just try to ride as many trains as possible.

 

I thought I could break my record for riding ten trains in an hour, which I've accomplished in Paris, New York and London.  A couple months ago, I figured out how to ride all 12 subway lines without ever going more than one stop.  I tried but it took an hour and a half.  At one point, I went the wrong way on the platform and that chewed up some time but even so, I don't think I could have even done ten in an hour.  I did manage to break my record for most trains in a day - 37.  My previous record was 30 in Toronto and before that, 29 in London and 28 in Vienna.

 

After I'd ridden all 12 lines, I went to Shinjuku, the major business district on the west side of town so I could locate my hotel where I'll be staying when I come back, have lunch and make a reservation for the sightseeing train I want to ride a week from Sunday.  This took awhile because the train is operated by both the private Odakyu railway and JR Central.  My rail pass covered the JR portion, but I needed a separate ticket for the Odakyu.

 

Tokyo has one trolley line left, the Toden Arawaka line in the Northern part of the city.  I rode it eastbound from Otsuka on the Yamanote line to Oji on the Keihin-Tohoku.  I wasn't able to get any pictures because of the rain. 

 

The two types of Japanese food I like most are noodles and yakitori.  Yakitori is basically miniature shish kabob; small pieces of meat, vegetables and other foods grilled on six inch toothpicks.  There are a few yakitori restaurants under the train tracks near Yurakucho station on the edge of the Ginza.  Six to nine skewers and some rice make a nice meal.

 

Wednesday, April 4th
I started using the rail pass today to go from Tokyo to Osaka with a stopover in Nagoya.  Normally it would be about two hours to Nagoya on the Hikari on the Tokaido Shinkansen, but I want to ride as many different trains and lines as possible, so I took a huge detour via Nagano.  The first train I took was the E2 series Asama, which runs on the Nagano branch of the Joetsu Shinkansen.  This is one of the lines running north from Tokyo that was still under construction the first two times I went to Japan.  Once we left the suburban Omiya station, the train really started moving at 260 kph (162 mph).  Time for some fast music for a fast train: Nashville's new hardcore sensation, Be Your Own Pet.

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Exterior and interior of JR East's E2 series trains on the Tohoku and Joetsu Shinkansen

Most "ordinary" cars on the Shinkansen have 3+2 seating and no carpet.  This makes the Acela Express seem luxurious by comparison but on the other hand, some people might prefer a train that can reach its top speed for more than 4% of its run.  Actually, the Shinkansen trains on this trip are nicer than the original 0 series bullets I rode the first two times.  Almost all the seats recline now but back then they had flip-over commuter train type seats.

 

From Nagano, I took the conventional Limited Express Wide View Shinano to Nagoya.   The JR Group website says; "Important: Limited Express trains often have unique design features and often travel on very scenic routes.  We encourage you to give them a try."  For the railfan and the conventional tourist, if you only take the Shinkansen for long distance travel, you're really missing out on an essential part of the Japanese rail experience.  Like many other Limited Expresses, the Shinano had a streamlined ended Green Car (first class) at one end and a blunt-ended ordinary car at the other.  As it turned out, the unreserved ordinary car was at the front end and I managed to get a front row seat.  Even though the car was blunt ended, it still had a clear partition behind the cab so I had a forward view.  Interestingly, if I had made a reservation for this train, I would have been a couple cars back and wouldn't have had such a primo seat.

 

The train reminded me of the narrow-gauge mountain railways in Switzerland - only on steroids!  It was much bigger and faster.  Shortly after leaving Nagano, it climbed a steep grade right into the mountains and where the curves weren't to sharp, it really moved.  The sensation was kind of like an amusement park ride.  Now that's what I came to Japan for.  Another advantage the conventional Limited Expresses have over the Shinkansen is that you really get to see the scenery, while the Shinkansen has a lot of tunnels.  The scenery on this route was spectacular and I assume there must be several other trains in Japan that offer a similar experience because the country is so mountainous.

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The Linimo maglev and the Higashiyama line of the Nagoya subway


In Nagoya I rode on an honest to goodness Maglev, called the Linimo, which was built for the 2005 world's fair.  It doesn't go anywhere near 300 mph, it just goes out into the suburbs from the end of one of the subway lines.  The rest of the time in Nagoya was spent riding around on the subway.  I didn't get to do everything I wanted to in the five hours I gave myself.  I suppose I could have stayed longer but I really wanted to catch the 18:07 Hikari to Osaka, just in case jet lag hit me and I had to crash out.

 

The Tokaido Shinkansen from Tokyo to Osaka has three kinds of trains; Kodama, which stop at all stations; Hikari, which stop at all major stations and a few minor ones and Nozomi, the fastest.  Japan Rail Pass is not accepted on the Nozomi, so I had to take Hikari and Kodama trains.  The Hikaris at 7 past the hour take the same amount of time as the Nozomis between Nagoya and Shin-Osaka, 52 minutes.   Hikari and Kodama trains use the class 300 series equipment, while the Nozomis use class 500 and 700.  300 and 700 trains look virtually identical on the sides (white with blue stripes under the windows).  At first I could only tell them apart by the end cars but then I realized that the 300s have a thin blue stripe just above the wide one and the 700s have the thin stripe below.  300s have a wedge shaped end and 700s have an ugly duck bill.  500s are a completely different design, but more about that later.  All Shinkansen trains are electric multiple units (EMUs), as opposed to the French TGVs, which have engines at both ends.  On the Tokaido line, all trains are 16 cars.

 

One bit of culture shock is that whenever the conductors or food cart women exit a car, they turn around and bow to the passengers.  This can really freak you out when you're used to: "Where's yer seat check? When ya leave yer seat yer supposta bring yer seat check widya!  Now go back to yer seat an' get it, an' if I see ya widdout yer seat check one more time, I'm gonna trow youse off da train!"

 

The Shinkansen doesn't go into the heart of Osaka, it uses Shin-Osaka station, a couple miles north of the main Osaka station.  My hotel was right on top of the Osaka station, so it was a five minute commuter train ride.  Once I got settled, it was time to go for a ride on the subway.  A new subway line had just opened the previous Christmas Eve, so that was the main priority.  By this time my knee had pretty much stopped hurting, so I rode the new Imazatosuji line and then headed for the Namba area. 

 

Namba is south of the main business district and is the liveliest part of town at night.  I tried to find the Dotombori Canal but got lost.  After wandering around aimlessly for awhile, I found a covered shopping arcade and followed it until I found my way to Namba Station area where the department stores are.  These covered pedestrian arcades are terrific for getting back on track and especially useful when it rains.  They have them all over Japan but Osaka seems to have a lot more of them than anywhere else.  A couple days later, I got lost again in the Umeda area near the main station because I mistook one covered arcade for another one.  This time I found an underground passageway to get my bearings.  This was even better because there are plenty of signs, in Japanese and English to direct you to the nearest subway station.

 

Thursday, April 5th

I planned to take day trips to Kyoto and Kobe while I was in Osaka and figured I'd do both in the same day, so I'd have two full days in Osaka.  The Kyoto subway was under construction when I was there before, so that was the top priority.  For the normal tourist, Kyoto is the place to visit because of its rich history.  It was because of this history that it was the only major city in Japan that wasn't flattened in the war.  The second time I visited Japan I was in Kyoto for two whole weeks and they took us around to all the shrines, temples and castles, so this time I didn't mind just riding around on the trains.

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Kyoto station: the HOT 7000 SuperHokuto diesel (left), which I took to Kobe and the 281 Haruka (right), which goes to Kansai Airport via Osaka.

There are three different railways that link Osaka and Kyoto, JR West and two private lines.  Since my pass was only good for JR, I started by taking the Limited Express Thunderbird to Kyoto.  Once there, I took the Karasuma subway line south to Takeda, where it connects with the Kintetsu private railway.  After a few pictures and video shots, I continued south to Tambabashi to catch another private line, the Keihan back to downtown Kyoto. I had ridden both lines when I was there before to Nara and Osaka, respectively.  The Keihan used to run alongside the Kamo River in Kyoto but has since been relocated underground.  This was a real disappointment because that would have been a great place to photograph the trains.  Instead I took the train to Sanjo station to pick up the other subway line, the Tozai to Rokujizu, where I caught JR's Nara line back to Kyoto station.

 

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Kintetsu Railway and Kyoto Subway's Karasuma line at Takeda

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Keihan Railway at Tambabashi and interior of Kyoto Station

Kyoto station underwent a major reconstruction in the mid 90s and now has a huge steel and glass atrium.  The escalators at each end form a continuous diagonal up to the top, about seven stories. 

 

Most of the Limited Expresses in Japan are EMUs, but the Super Hokuto that I took to Kobe was a diesel.  It had the same sleekness as its electric counterparts but it was rather noisy.  Just about all passenger trains in Japan are multiple units, diesel as well as electric.  As a matter of fact, the only locomotive-hauled ones I've seen are overnighters.  However the sleeper train I'll be taking on this trip is an EMU.  I have seen pictures of loco-hauled day trains in magazines; they must be way out in the boonies.

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Kobe's Portliner and subway

In Kobe, I rode the two regular subway lines and the new Portliner train.  The Portliner is an elevated rubber-tired line that goes to the man made Port Island and the airport.  Another similar line goes to Rokko Island, east of the central area but I didn't have time to ride it.  In the last 10-15 years, a few similar lines have been built in Japan, mainly in waterfront areas.  Some are completely automated.

 

My guidebook said that Kobe's Chinatown wasn't all that great but I figured I'd be able to find a decent noodle place.  Turned out the guidebook was right.

 

Friday, April 6th

Friday is "No My Car Day" in Osaka.  That means that you can get a day pass for the subway for 600 Yen instead of 850 Yen.

 

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Cherry blossoms in Osaka Castle Park and the castle itself.

Even though this is strictly a train vacation, I still feel obligated to take pictures of other stuff to fool people into thinking I did something other than just ride trains.  This way I can put together a collection of "acceptable" pictures to show people at work.  Since the weather was nice I went to Osaka Castle Park.  I turned out to be quite pleasant and interesting; the park has several different levels, each with its own stone wall and moat.  The actual castle is at the top level, making it as difficult as possible for an invading army to reach it.  I went all the way up to the top level and got plenty of shots of the castle and the cherry blossoms.  I had originally wanted to take this trip in May but April was the warmest time I was able to get three consecutive weeks.  As a result, I was in Japan at the peak of cherry blossom season.  Didn't go into the castle though, they actually wanted money!

 

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JR West 681 Thunderbird and 381 Super Kuroshio at Shin-Osaka

 

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The overnight Twilight Express arrives at Shin-Osaka from Sapporo, an Osaka Sakaisuji line subway train at Awaji on the Hankyu private Railway

After getting the deception part out of the way, it was time to get down to some serious train photography.  The Twilight Express only runs four days a week and on Friday it leaves Osaka at 12:03 and the inbound from Sapporo arrives at 12:52.  I went to Shin-Osaka to get my pictures and there was plenty of action.  The lower level, used by the conventional narrow gauge trains, has a constant flow of commuter, express, limited express and freight trains passing through, which gave me plenty of photo ops.

 

There were a few other guys with cameras there and throughout the trip, I saw plenty of people taking pictures.  Japan hasn't yet fallen victim to the post-9/11 hysteria that has totally gripped the US.  I never actually spoke to any railfans who were taking pictures.  If somebody who spoke English had wanted to strike up a conversation with me about trains (or baseball or anything else), I would have been happy to but I wasn't comfortable about initiating the process.  It doesn't matter, I'm totally into my own space on these types of trips.  Just give me a rail pass and plenty of trains to ride on and I'm a happy camper.

 

The Nanko Port Tram is similar to the Portliner in Kobe, an elevated train with rubber tires.  Most of it goes through industrial areas along the waterfront.  What makes it convenient is that it runs from the end of one subway line to the end of another.  At one point I got off and walked to the next stop so I could take pictures and shoot video of it.  Osaka also has a loop line similar to the Yamanote in Tokyo.  The only difference is that it shares tracks with other trains.

 

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Osaka Dome, home of the Orix Buffaloes, the place was empty.

One thing I really wanted to do other than ride trains was to catch at least one baseball game.  The Orix Buffaloes were home while I was in Osaka, so I decided to try to get to tonight's game against the Seibu Lions.  I had heard that baseball is hugely popular in Japan, so I had no idea whether I'd be able to get a ticket.  I needn't have worried, the place was empty.  There couldn't have been more than about 5,000 fans at the Osaka Dome and this was a Friday night game.  I once went a game in Montreal and there were more people in the stands.

 

Apparently, Osaka's other team, the Hanshin Tigers, is the team of choice and the Buffaloes are Japanese baseball's equivalent of the LA Clippers.  It was probably better this way.  If the Tigers had been home, I might not have been able to get in and I hear their fans are insane.  The Lions (Daisuke Matsuzaka's old team) were winning 5-1 after eight innings and I decided I'd seen enough.  It wasn't like I had to beat the crowds to the subway, I was just getting hungry and bored, so I decided to get going. 

 

Saturday, April 7th

Another flashy Limited Express I wanted to ride was the Ocean Arrow, which runs from Kyoto along the coast of the Kii-Hanto peninsula to Shingu.  Interestingly, it bypasses Osaka station, stopping at Shin-Osaka and Tennoji, the major station on the South side of town.  I had planned to take it outbound to Wakayama but it was raining and I wanted to save time, so I took it inbound from Tennoji to Kyoto.  From there I took a Kodama back to Shin-Osaka and a commuter train to Osaka.

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Osaka's New Port Tram and the subway's Chuo line

Because it was raining, I decided to skip the floating observatory on top of the Umeda Sky Building and concentrate on a couple of the private railways in Osaka.  First I rode the Hankyu, which has several lines, one of which runs from the Osaka subway.  I took this one to the Awaji station, where it meets up with another line.  From there, took another train to the major junction at Juso, where a couple other lines come together and they all feed into a six track bridge over the Yodo River and into the main terminal at Umeda, next to Osaka station.  A lot of the private railways in Japan are owned by department store chains and as a result, the Umeda terminal is on the 2nd floor of the main Hankyu store.  It was fun to stand at the end of the platform to watch and photograph the trains coming and going every few minutes.  Unfortunately, the pictures didn't come out very well because it was pouring.  I tried to look at the bright side, all of Hankyu's trains are an ugly dark maroon.

 

The first time I was in Japan, I went to the Modern Transportation Museum in Osaka and there was a lot of interesting train stuff there, so I decided to check it out again.  Not surprisingly, the place had changed quite a bit in the last 30 years.  There weren't as many model train layouts but the steam engines were still outside.  The gift shop was a major temptation.  They had a nice selection of N-gauge train models and some DVDs that looked pretty interesting, but I had promised myself not to do any shopping until I got back to Tokyo.  I don't like to buy too much when I travel because I don't want to lug it with me on the trains.  I managed to fight off the temptation and leave empty handed.

 

Next I want back to Tennoji to catch the Hankai trolley line.  When I was there in 78, I think I took it one stop and then walked back.  Tennoji is a place where I'd rather not venture outside the train station.  There are street musicians all over the place and I can't stand whiney folk music in any language.  If I wasn't such a train fanatic, the whiney folk music I had to put up with in high school would have turned me into Archie Bunker.  But because our government has allowed itself to be bought and paid for by automotive and airline interests, I decided to become a Commie Pinko punk rocker.

 

I wasn't exactly sure where I would get off the trolley.  My subway map showed it crossing a couple branches of the Nankai private railway but didn't give station names.  When it crossed over one of them with a station in sight, I got off right away.  Like the Hankyu, the Nankai is no Toonerville trolley.  The Higashi-Sumiyoshi station, where I got on was a standard four track local station with the platforms on the outside and expresses constantly whizzing by.

 

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Nankai's Airport Express at Namba terminal and local at Higashi-sumiyoshi

I took a local to the Namba terminal, which was similar to the Hankyu facility at Umeda, only with a much better variety of trains.  The Airport Express was one of the freakiest looking trains I've ever seen.  It looked like some kind of 1930s vision of the future.

 

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Series 221 commuter train at Tennoji and 207 at Kyoto

 

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Bright lights in Osaka's Dotombori area

Besides trains, one other thing I really wanted to photograph in Japan was the bright lights at night.  I mainly used the video camera for this but also got some digital shots.  By leaving the film camera back in the room at night, I didn't have to lug the camera bag because both of the other cameras fit in my jacket pockets.  I had already gotten some shots of the Ginza the first two nights in Tokyo.  In Osaka, the Namba area is where the best displays are, especially around the Dotombori Canal.

 

I had a terrific sukiyaki dinner in the Kyobashi area on the east side of town.  Gaijin (foreigners) don't seem to visit this part of the city, so I'd eat somewhere that only the locals go.  It was a little mom n' pop restaurant and when I first got there I was the only customer in the place.  They really did the sukiyaki right by putting a hot plate on the table, bringing me the ingredients and letting me do my own thing.  An extra bonus was they had the Tigers-Tokyo Giants game on TV, which is the biggest rivalry in Japanese baseball.

 

Sunday, April 8th

 

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JR West's Hikari Rail Star at Shin-Osaka and class 283 Ocean Arrow at Kyoto

Time to leave Osaka on the Sanyo Shinkansen, which is the Western extension of the Tokaido line.  The Sanyo line is run by JR West instead of JR Central and some of the rolling stock is different.  The Hikaris are operated by class 700 Rail Star sets, which are different than their Nozomi counterparts.  Rail Stars have 8 cars instead of 16 and a different paint scheme; light grey with dark grey and orange trim.  This made the "duck bill" ends a bit more attractive.  Normally, I wouldn't need a reservation for the trip to Hiroshima because the train originated at Shin-Osaka.  However, the Rail Star has 3+2 seating in the unreserved cars and 2+2 in the reserved cars, which are similar to Green Car seats on most other Shinkansen trains (only Nozomis carry Green Cars on the Sanyo line).  Not only that, seat reservations are free for Japan Rail Pass holders, so I'd be stupid not to take advantage of the situation.  Unfortunately, I wound up with an aisle seat.  So as not to offend the old lady sitting next to me, I listened to the first Pretenders album.

 

As everyone knows, Hiroshima is best known for the time we dropped The Big One, but that's not why I stopped there.  The city just happens to have the most trolleys in Japan.  There are nine routes and a terrific variety of cars.  They have modern European style multiple section articulated cars and some really ancient ones that look just like the ones that ran in Kyoto the first two times I was there.

 

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Hiroshima's Green Mover and Green Mover Max trolleys

 

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One of Hiroshima's older trolleys and the Astram rapid transit line

Hiroshima also has a rubber tired elevated line called the Astram, which is similar to the waterfront lines in Osaka and Kobe.  The first three stations are underground, so I consider it a subway.  I took it seven stops out to Nishihara and back downtown.  I wasn't particularly interested in seeing the A-Bomb Dome, but four of the trolley lines go right past it, so I took a picture of it for the "acceptable" collection.

 

The Japan Rail Pass isn't good on the Nozomi bullet trains but I really wanted to ride a class 500 train, so I bought a separate ticket for the segment from Hiroshima to Hakata station in Fukuoka.  The 500 is the coolest looking train on the Shinkansen system and also the only train in Japan that can go 300 kph (186 mph).  It wasn't hard to figure out which trains used the 500 equipment, all I has to do was find the ones that cover that portion of the line in the least amount of time.  I was able to use the machine to make the reservation and buy the ticket with my credit card, in English.  It even let me select what type of seat I wanted, a window on the two seat side.  For the fastest train in Japan, I went with Da Ramones first album.

 

My hotel in Fukuoka was across the street from Hakata station.  It also had its own coin laundry machines, so that was the first priority once I'd checked in.  It was pretty convenient, but the dryers took forever and by the time I finished it was dark outside.  I took the subway to Nakasu Island, where there's a lot of nightlife.  I walked around for awhile until I got to Tenjin, the main business district and then took the subway back to Hakata.

 

Monday, April 9th

Day trip to Kagoshima, the southernmost city on the four major islands.  The Kyushu Shinkansen is only partially complete.  Right now the Southern section is operating from Shin-Yatsushiro to Kagoshima, so I had to take a "Relay" Tsubame from Hakata to Shin-Yatsushiro to catch the Tsubame bullet train.  I had made a reservation for the trip down because there are only three minutes between trains at Shin-Yatsushiro and I wanted to be sure to get a window seat.  Turned out it really wasn't necessary.  To properly explain the speed differential between the conventional limited expresses and the Shinkansen, the Relay covers the 151 km from Hakata to Shin-Yatsushiro in 1:37, while the Tsubame takes 40 minutes for the remaining 137.  I needed some adrenaline music for the bullet; Rancid's Let's Go.

 

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Kagoshima's trolleys

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The Sakurajima volcano, across the bay from Kagoshima and stained glass mural of it at Kagoshima-chuo station

Kagoshima has two trolley lines, which share tracks in the downtown area.  They start at the old Kagoshima station and head southwest.  At the edge of the main business district, they split with line 1 continuing near the coast while line 2 goes by the newer Kagoshima-Chuo station.  This is where the Shinkansen terminates and is now the busier station in town.  There are a few different places where you can transfer between the trolleys and JR Kyushu, so I was able to ride four trolleys and two commuter trains.  I walked around the central area to the waterfront to photograph the Sakurajima volcano.  The volcano is supposedly active, but I didn't see any smoke, ash or lava coming out.

 

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Class 787 RelayTsubame at Hakata and 800 Tsubame at Kagoshima-chuo

I had thought about making one or two stopovers on the way back to Hakata.  I might have waited at Shin-Yatsushiro for the next Relay to give myself some better photo ops for the Tsubame Shinkansen or I could have stopped at Kumamoto to ride the trolleys there and see the castle.  Instead, I just went straight back to Hakata because I was getting tired.  The former would have been a good idea because the shots I did get at Kagoshima-Chuo didn't come out very well.  On the Relay, I got a good look at the portion of the Shinkansen that was still under construction.  Some of the concrete viaducts were finished and in other places, they were still excavating the right of way.  It seemed that the northern half was more out in the open than the part that was open, which had a lot of tunnels.

 

Tuesday, April 10th

 

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Hakata Station: series 783 Midori and 885 Kamome

 

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500 Nozomi and 883 Sonic at Hakata

 

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Kyushu Railways commuter trains; 817 at Hizen-Yamaguchi and 811 at Hakata

I wanted to stay in and around Fukuoka today, so I decided not to go to Nagasaki.  It's a two hour train ride and I felt kinda weird about visiting both places we nuked back in '45.  However, the Kamome train that goes there is really impressive looking, so I took it to Hizen-Yamaguchi, which is a 45 minute ride.  The next Ltd. Express back to Hakata was a Midori, a completely different type of equipment, giving me some more variety.

 

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The Kuko and Nanakuma lines of the Fukuoka subway

Fukuoka has three subway lines and I was able to cover the entire system today.  The Kuko (Airport) and Hakozaki lines are pretty conventional and there are occasional through trains from one to the other.  Both only come outside at the outer end where they have through services to JR and Nishitetsu private railway lines.  The Nanakuma line just opened recently and has a more futuristic look but is entirely underground.  From the Kaizuka terminal of the Hakozaki line, I took the Nishitetsu to Wajiro and then returned to Hakata on two JR trains via Kashii.

 

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Interior of the Canal City Mall and the Naka River at night

The Canal City Mall has a really unique design; it's not completely enclosed and there's a canal that runs right through it.  I spent close to an hour wandering around taking pictures because there were so many different angles from which to photograph.

 

Wednesday, April 11th

Kyushu Railways has quite a variety of conventional limited expresses and one I was particularly interested in was the Yufuin no Mori.  This is more of a leisure train that goes across the interior of the island to the resort spa towns of Yufuin and Beppu, as well as the city of Oita.  Reservations are mandatory, so I made one to Oita because that's where the Sonic trains back to Hakata originate.

 

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The Yufuin no Mori at Hakata and the Kitakyushu monorail at Kokura station.

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Me on the Yufuin no Mori
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The interior of the first car


The Yufuin no Mori has a more relaxed atmosphere than most Japanese trains.  The majority of the passengers are elderly and the business related urgency just isn't there.  As a result, put the Stones' A Bigger Bang on the Walkman.  At one point the hostess came around with a sign featuring a picture of the train and the date.  She took pictures of everyone with their own cameras.

 

At Oita, I picked up the Sonic which goes back to Hakata on the quicker northern route via Kokura.  There are two types of Sonic trains, the white 885 class, which I rode on the Kamome yesterday and the blue 883, which I hadn't been on yet.  After an hour in Oita for a quick lunch and a brief walk around the immediate area of the station, I decided to catch the 14:14 Sonic which was an 885.  I was hoping for an 883 but didn't want to wait another half hour.  I settled into a seat in the first car and found out something very interesting.  The partition behind the cab was translucent, so there was no forward view, but once the train started moving, it turned transparent.  Is that too cool or what?

 

I took the Sonic to Kokura, the station for Kitakyushu.  I was planning to ride the monorail but all I did was photograph it.  The interesting thing about the monorail is that it comes right into the concourse of the station, which reminded me of the one at Disney World, which goes right through the lobby of the Contemporary Resort Hotel.

 

Instead of riding the monorail, I got the urge to go back to Fukuoka, so I took a Kodama, the "local" on the Shinkansen.  The train was a class 100, the second generation of trains on the Tokaido-Sanyo line.  The 100s were originally 16 cars long and had up to four double deck cars in the middle of the consist.  One of the double deckers was a dining car with the tables on the top and the kitchen on the bottom, like on Amtrak's Superliners.  Full dining cars have been phased out on just about all day trains in Japan and now only a handful of overnight trains have them.  This train was only four single level cars, but the original 3+2 seating had been replaced by 2+2, so it was more comfortable.  I don't think I saw any of the original 0 series train sets, maybe just in passing.  These have also been demoted to Kodama service and as with the 100s, only in the West.

 

When I got back to Fukuoka, I took the subway to Ohorikoen Park to get some more pictures for the "acceptable" collection.  After that, it was back to Hakata station and this time I got to ride the blue, class 883 Sonic.  When I was in New York, I had picked up a brochure about this train, but it really looked different.  In the brochure, the train was blue on the ends and silver on the sides.  Also, the interior in the pictures was also a lot more colorful, especially the headrests.  The ones I saw were all blue on the outside and much more conservative on the inside, so as not to offend the business crowd.  Maybe the one in the brochure was just a few sets, only used for "family" services or something.

 

I planned to just take it to the next stop, which I thought was Kokura, and maybe ride the monorail this time.  When I got off at the first stop, I couldn't find the monorail and then I realized this wasn't Kokura after all.  It slipped my mind that the Sonic, unlike the Shinkansen, makes a couple of stops between Hakata and Kokura and this was actually Orio.  The next thing that popped into mind was (in Tommy Chong's "Man" voice), Hey, they musta named this town after the cookies, man.  For a couple minutes I thought about taking the next train to Kokura, but I wound up just taking another 883 back to Hakata.

 

Thursday, April 12th

Shikoku is the least well known of the four major islands to outsiders in Japan.  Since I had decided not to go to Hokkaido, I wanted to visit at least visit three out of four.  To get there I first took a Rail Star to Okayama and this time I got a reservation for a window seat.  I'd been to Okayama the first time I was in Japan but never made it out of the train station.  I was in Kyoto and wanted to get another ride on the Shinkansen and cover a part of the line I hadn't been on yet.  So I took a Hikari to Okayama and then took the next one back to Shin-Osaka.

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Okayama's trolleys

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Okayama: fountain in front of the station and Shikoku Railway's 8000 series Shiokaze to Matsuyama

This time I actually spent a few hours there so I could ride the trolleys.  There are two lines and I took line1 to the bridge over the Asahi River to take some pictures and shoot some video.  Then I headed back downtown for lunch and to catch the train to Takamatsu on Shikoku.

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Kotoden interurban line and overnight Sunrise Seto at Takamatsu


There is a direct train, the Marine Liner to Takamatsu, but I wanted to take the Shiokaze, a really sleek limited express.  Trains to Shikoku take the Seto-Ohashi bridges across the Inland Sea.  This isn't just one bridge, but a series of several bridges and man-made islands, which provide spectacular views.  The Shiokaze goes to Matsuyama, which is west of the bridges, so I got off at Utazu, the first stop on Shikoku, to catch an eastbound Ishizuchi, another limited express for Takamatsu.  I had about 20 minutes between trains but before the Ishizuchi showed up, a local to Takamatsu pulled in.  I figured why bother waiting, so I got on.  As it turned out the train waited at one of the stations for the Ishizuchi to pass it, but it was a pleasant enough ride anyway with a forward view.

 

Takamatsu was the only place on this trip where I wasn't rushing around like a maniac, trying to ride as many trains as possible.  I had about five hours to kill before catching the Sunrise Seto back to Tokyo, so I walked around for awhile and took a quick ride on the Kotoden interurban line.

 

The Sunrise Seto is an unusual sleeper train.  It's a self-propelled Electric Multiple Unit that combines with the identical Sunrise Izumo at Okayama.  I had an upper single room, which reminded me of a single room in a Slumbercoach, only without "facilities".  One difference was that it didn't appear to have seats that turn into beds, just the beds.  The Sunrise Exp. trains are relatively short overnight rides (about 9:45 from Takamatsu to Tokyo), where you get on, go to sleep and when you wake up, you're just about there.

 

Friday, April 13th

Arriving at Tokyo at 7:08am, this was the best time to take a day trip north to Sendai.  The Tohoku Shinkansen has a much greater variety of rolling stock than the Tokaido line and I wanted to ride as many of them as possible.  In addition to the dedicated high-speed line, the Tohoku has two "Mini-shinkansen" branches that have been re-gauged from narrow to standard gauge and have had special trains built that can run on both types of lines.  I took the class 400 Tsubasa to Fukushima where the adjusted line to Yamagata and Shinjo branches off.  I had originally planned to take the Tsubasa to Yamagata and then back to Fukushima before continuing on to Sendai but then decided that would be too much for one day.

 

At Fukushima, I got to watch the Tsubasa uncouple from the class E4 Max Yamabiko, which is an all double decker train to Sendai.  I stayed in Fukushima for about a half an hour, getting video shots of the E2/E3 combined trains passing through at top speed.  Then I caught an E4 Max Yamabiko to Sendai.  Interesting thing about the E4; the upper level unreserved seats are 3+3 and non-reclining, while all the rest of the ordinary seats are 3+2 reclining, with the exception being car #4.  That's the car I made a point of getting on.  If I thought the "duckbill" at the front of the 700 series trains was ugly, the E4 is even worse.  Because the trains are double deck, the duckbill is more pronounced and the top of the end is always dirty.  Even in the magazines I picked up, the tops of the E4s are always dirty.

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400 series Tsubasa mini-Shinkansen at Fukushima and the Sendai subway

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Sendai commuter trains: 205 series at Shinden and 721 at Sendai station

Sendai is the furthest north I went on this trip.  There is one subway line, which brings my lifetime total up to 46 different cities where I've ridden the subway.  My criteria for a "subway" is either full-scale rapid transit or a trolley line that has at least 3 consecutive stops underground (so Newark can qualify).  There are also about 30 other cities where I've been on some other form of rail transit.  The subway also intersects with commuter lines in a couple places outside of the downtown area, which made it easy to make "circle" trips using both types of trains.

 

For the trip back to Tokyo, I took an E3 series Komachi, another Mini-shinkansen train coming from Akita that couples up with the E2 series Hayate from Hachinohe at Morioka.  Because the Mini-shinkansen trains are narrower than other bullet trains, they have 2+2 seating in ordinary class and bridge plates that swing up to cover the gap between the train and platform at shinkansen stations.  I made a point of making a reservation for this train, not only because it was mandatory but because I'd already ridden an E2 but not an E3 yet.  The E2/E3 combos can go up to 275 kph/171mph, as opposed to 240/149 for the E4/400 sets.  Today's musical selection was everybody's favorite "bad girl" group, the Donnas Get Skintight.

 

When I got back to Tokyo, I took the Chuo line to Shinjuku, the major business district on the west side of town, where I stayed for the last six days of the trip.  I'd had my big suitcase shipped from Fukuoka directly to the hotel, so I wouldn't have to lug it to Takamatsu and on the sleeper train.  This is another great example of Japanese efficiency and it only cost 1920, about $17.  I was given room 711 and this is Friday the 13th.  Does that mean anything at all?

 

One of the reasons I decided to stay in Shinjuku was because there seems to be more night life on the west side than the east.  I wanted to check out at least one live rock n' roll club while I was there, so I went to Antiknock, which was just on the other side of the station from my hotel.  It turns out the music starts really early, even on weekends, around 6 or 7, so I only caught the last two acts.  The two bands I saw didn't really impress me.  I prefer the garage/punk sound, but these were, for lack of a better word, just too screechy for me.  The second one waved a gasoline powered chain saw around the club when they first went on.  I meant to check out another club in Shibuya, the other major nightlife area, three stops to the south but never got around to it.

 

Saturday, April 14th.

Time to do laundry again, which wasted the whole morning.  Of course the weather was nice for a change, so I missed out on some quality photography time.  When I was finished, I headed for the subway museum, which is east of downtown.  The much bigger transportation museum was in the process of being moved from downtown to the northern suburbs, so I missed out.  The subway museum is on Tokyo Metro's Tozai line, which has the longest outdoor segment on the system.  It also has express (rapid) and local service like in New York.  Kasai station (the one for the museum) has sidings for local trains and platforms only on the outside.  When a local train pulls in, it waits for a rapid to go by before continuing.   As a result, I got a couple good video shots.

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Series 05 and 10,000 trains on the Tozai subway line at Urayasu


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Tokyo's Subway Museum: trains from the first two lines; Ginza and Marunouchi

The museum had a few interesting things, most notably, two complete old subway cars from the first two lines.  After the museum, I continued east on the Tozai line to the end of the line at Nishi-Funabashi.  This is also a major junction for JR East trains.  I took the Keiyo line back to Tokyo.  This line goes right by Tokyo Disneyland and I could see the higher parts, like the castle and the Matterhorn.  I never seriously considered going to Disney, why should I waste time waiting in line when I could be riding trains?

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Two views of Ochanomizu station, where JR's Chuo line passes over the Marounouchi subway line

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The Chuo and Sobu lines at Ochanomizu

One of the greatest places I've ever seen to photograph trains is Ochanomizu.  The JR station on the bank of the Kanda River is where the Sobu line diverges from the Chuo line on a flyover.  Not only that, the Marunouchi subway line comes outside from directly underneath the JR station to cross the river and there are a couple of street bridges above the rail layout with excellent views.  As a result there are trains constantly going by on three levels.

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The Shinjuku business district on the west side of Tokyo at night

 

Sunday, April 15th

When I was in Tokyo at the beginning of this trip, I made a reservation for the jointly operated Asagiri.  The Odakyu has the coolest trains of any of the private railway in Japan.  Their Romance Car trains carry a steady flow of tourists to the Hakone/Mt. Fuji/Kamakura areas south and west of Tokyo.  Not only that there are five different types of equipment in Romance Car service.  The 7000, 10,000 and 50,000 sets all have that Disney monorail type of look with the cab above the observation deck at both ends of the train.  The Asagiri has two double deck cars in the middle of the train with the Green Car seating on the top level of both.  The 30,000 series trains are rather unimpressive compared to the others.


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Odakyu Railway's class 371 Asagiri and 50,000 VSE series Romance Car train sets at Shinjuku

Once the train finally got past the suburbs of the Tokyo/Yokohama megalopolis, the scenery started getting really impressive.  To enhance the experience, I put on The Clash on Broadway.  At Matsuda, the train switches over to JR Central rails and shortly after that, Mt. Fuji comes into view.  I took the train all the way to the end of the line at Numazu and from there it was a five minute ride on a local train to the Shinkansen station at Mishima.

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Mt. Fuji from the Asagiri and the Yokohama subway

Mishima is where I boarded my first Shinkansen train back in '77.  My tour group took a bus from Hakone and then a Kodama from Mishima to Kyoto.  The Mishima station is a bit unusual because it has a center platform with the passing tracks for the Hikaris and Nozomis on the outside.  While I was waiting, two 500 series Nozomis passed in both directions.  The first one caught me by surprise, but I was ready for the second and managed to get a video shot of it.

 

I took the Kodama to Shin-Yokohama station, a few miles north of the main Yokohama station, similar to Shin-Osaka.  The Ramen Museum is within walking distance of Shin-Yokohama and I love ramen noodles.  In fact, that's what I ate more than anything else on this trip.  Turned out the place was a rip-off, it cost 300 to get in and then you have to wait in line forever at all of the little restaurants they have, just so you can pay much higher prices for noodles than anywhere else.  I had passed a noodle place on the way to the museum, so I left after about five minutes and retraced my steps.

 

Yokohama only has one subway line but it's very long, 40 km which is about 25 miles and takes about an hour from end to end.  Apparently, it was originally supposed to be two different lines that were joined together. First I took it a few stops north to Center Kita, an outdoor station to take pictures and then went though the center of the city to Totsuka, where it connects with the Tokaido main line.  From there I took two JR East trains to the Minato Mirai 21 waterfront area.

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The Minato Mirai office towers and Ferris wheel on Yokohama's waterfront.

Minato Mirai is a large office/retail/hotel/amusement park development on Yokohama harbor.  I walked around for awhile taking pictures.  I was tempted to go on a couple of the amusement rides but wasn't quite up to it.  I figured I'd have plenty of time to do that in Tokyo, but it rained so much when I was there that I never got around to it.  Minato Mirai also has its own private subway line, which is actually an extension of the Tokyu Railway's line from Shibuya station in Tokyo.   I took it to Chinatown, the end of the line.

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Motomachi-Chukagai (Chinatown) station on the Minato Mirai Railway and Yokohama's Chinatown

Kobe's Chinatown may have been disappointing but Yokohama's is the real deal.  After walking around for quite awhile, I finally decided on a restaurant and had an excellent pork fried noodle dish.  From there I walked over to JR East's Ishikawacho station and headed back to Shinjuku using the Negishi and Shonan-Shinjuku lines.

 

Monday, April 16

I'm staying close to Tokyo today.  First, I headed south to Shibuya, another business district on the west side to photograph the Ginza subway line.  It runs on a short elevated structure just before reaching the terminal there.  Next, it was time to check out a couple of private railways.  This may seem a little confusing, considering that JR is now a group of private companies.  Maybe independent is a better term.

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The Ginza subway line pulls out of its terminal at Shibuya and 200 series Shinkansen at Tokyo

The Tokyu Railway operates a trolley line called the Setagaya line in the near west suburbs.  To get there I took their underground Den-en toshi line a couple stops to Sangenjaya, where it took me awhile to find the trolley terminal and I wound up walking a few blocks past it.  By the time I did find it, it was raining again.  I've had very bad luck with the weather on the days I stayed in Tokyo.  As a result I didn't get any pictures of the trolley.  I took it to Yamashita, where it crosses under the Odakyu Railway's Gotokuji station.

 

From there I took an Odakyu local back to Shinjuku with a stopover at Yoyogi-uehara, where Tokyo Metro's Chiyoda line goes underground from the Odakyu main line.  While I was there I managed to get video shots of a couple Romance Car trains.  Next I took the Chuo line to Tokyo station for a short ride on the Shinkansen.

 

I took an E1 series MAX (Multi Amenity eXpress) double decker to the north suburban Omiya station, where the Tohoku and Joetsu lines split.  When I took the Asama to Nagano the first day I used the railpass, I had noticed a little rapid transit train running alongside the Shinkansen tracks, so I wanted to investigate.  Turns out it was one of those rubber-tired elevated trains called the New Shuttle.  I took it a few stops out to Hihashi-miyhara and back.

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E1 and E4 MAX double deck Shinkansen trains at Tokyo

 

By this time I'd been on every type of Shinkansen train except for the 200 series which were the first trains to run on the Tohoku and Joetsu lines when they opened in 1982.  I would have liked to have taken one back to Tokyo but didn't feel like waiting for one, so I took an E2 Yamabiko instead.

 

The next thing I wanted to do was to head east to Chiba to ride the monorail.  I took a Wakashio limited express train which leaves from the underground Keiyo line platforms just south of Tokyo station.   I got off at the first stop, Soga and from there it was a short ride on a local to Chiba station.

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Series 257 Wakashio at Soga and the Chiba Monorail


The Chiba monorail is the suspended variety, where the train actually hangs from the track above.  The first time I went to Germany, I went to Wuppertal to ride the Schwebebahn, which is the same type of operation only much older.  When I showed people pictures of it, some of them said they'd be scared to death to ride on it and couldn't understand why I'd want to ride it.  When I was in the first grade, I had ridden a suspended monorail at the New York World's Fair and it didn't scare me at all, in fact it was the one thing I wanted to do at the fair more than anything else.

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Tokyo's colorful pachinko parlors

Another part of Tokyo known for nightlife is Roppongi.  It's the area where a lot of foreigners go especially the bars.  However, because of the medication I'm taking, I can only drink one beer a day.  So I just walked around for awhile and explored the Roppongi Hills complex, which has a shopping mall, office tower and hotel.  Then I went to Tony Roma's for ribs.

 

One thing I never got around to doing was playing Pachinko.  The Japanese are extremely passionate about this variation on pinball, which is sort of like gambling in a roundabout way.  I had played a little bit the first to times I was here and I thought I would try it again but never really got the urge.  At night I was content to just walk around and observe the light displays.

 

Tuesday, April 17

This is the last day of my rail pass validity, so I decided head southwest again.  The plan was to take the Super View Odoriko to Atami, the gateway to the Izu peninsula and work my way back to Tokyo via Odawara and the Shinkansen.  I could have caught the Odoriko at Shinjuku but took the Yamanote line a few kilometers north to Ikebukuro so I could pick it up at its point of origin.  When I got there I found out that this was an all reserved train, so I couldn't get on.  Naturally, I was pretty upset at first but then I regrouped and made a reservation on the Super View Odoriko leaving Atami at 1:50pm going back to Tokyo.  So I worked it out so I'd do the same thing I planned only the other way around.

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300 series Kodama at Odawara and 251 Super View Odoriko at Shinjuku

I took a Kodama to Odawara to shoot video of the bullet trains going by at speed.  Odawara station has the same setup as the Kasai station on the Tokyo subway, four tracks with the platforms on the outside.  When a Kodama stops at Odawara, it usually stops for 5-7 minutes and sometimes two Hikari or Nozomi trains will pass before it gets going again.  I made a point of being at Odawara when the 500s would be passing through.  They only run every two hours (most Nozomis use 700 equipment) but I was there when they'd be passing in both directions within about a half an hour.  I wound up getting video shots of about a half dozen trains in the hour I spent there.

 

It's a one stop, nine minute ride on the Kodama to the resort town of Atami.  When I got there it was drizzling, so I didn't walk around too much.  I had just enough time to have lunch.  There was a hot spring in front of the station where people were soaking their feet as well as a sculpture of a steam engine.

 

The Super View Odoriko was the only train on this trip that was more than a couple minutes late - a half an hour and it didn't make up any time either.  The train has two double deck green cars at the south end and one double deck "ordinary" car at the north, which had a kid's playroom on the lower level.  This turned out to be to my advantage because this was a northbound run.  The seats at the end of the car are theater style, overlooking the cab.  Although my seat was in the third car, the train was pretty empty and there was a vacant seat right in the front of the first car.  I got some nice video shots despite the fact that it was raining.

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Interior of the Tokyo International Forum, the vantage point for this 700 series Nozomi

 

Wednesday, April 18

Another rainy day, this is really putting a damper on my photography.  Because my railpass had expired, I picked up another Tokyo Free Kippu pass for the JR and subways.  I started on the west side, taking the Odakyu line to Umegaoka so I could get a video shot of the Asagiri, which I had ridden on Sunday.  After that I wend south to Meguro and north to Ikebukuro, riding the Tokyu railway, the Chuo line west of Shinjuku to Nakano and the Tozai subway line to name a few.

 

Tokyo's 13th subway line is called simply the "New Line" and for now it's just a one stop shuttle that runs alongside the Yurakucho line from Ikebukuro to Kotake-mukaihara.  The rest of the line is under construction and is scheduled to open to Shibuya next year, when it will be renamed the Fukutoshin line.

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JR electric locomotive for sleeper trains and E231 commuter train at Tokyo

 

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Class 651 Super Hitachi at Ueno and Yurikamome automated elevated train at Odaiba

I'd been meaning to go to an amusement park at some point on this trip, but now it looks like I won't get a chance.  Today I had planned to go to Palette Town in the Odaiba area, which is a huge development on the waterfront, south of the east side business district.  It was still pouring, but I went to Odaiba anyway to ride the Yurikamome, another automated, rubber-tired elevated train.  The Yurikamome is much more impressive than any of the other similar operations I've experienced on this trip.  At least the trains are flashier.  Because it was raining, the only thing I was able to do was walk around in one of the malls for a little while.

 

I don't usually do much shopping when I travel but there were a few things I wanted to pick up.  One thing I had to get was some train magazines.  I can't read the text but as one would expect, the photography is spectacular.  This is something I found out the first time I was here 30 years ago, when I bought a copy of Japan Railfan Magazine, which I still pick up occasionally when I visit New York.  I found one magazine that had pictures of every Shinkansen and Limited Express train built for JR since it was privatized in '87 and another one that was a collection of absolutely stunning photographs of trains in scenic settings.  And of course I also picked up the current issue of Japan Railfan Magazine.

 

There's a street in the Asakusa section of town called Kappabashi-dori, where the sell every conceivable item for restaurants.  This was where I figured I'd pick up a few trinkets for the folks back home.  One thing they actually sell there are the wax food models that most restaurants have on display.  They are incredibly realistic and a huge help for a dumb gaijin like me because all I have to do is drag the waiter outside and point to what I want if I don't know what it's called.  They're actually pretty expensive, so I just bought seven pieces of fake sushi.  I didn't want to be bothered lugging a great big bowl of fake noodle soup on the plane.  Now I can look forward to people's reactions when I offer them a piece of sushi: EEW! That must have gone bad by now!  And I also picked up a few tea cups and some sake paraphernalia.

 

Thursday, April 19th

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E351 Super Azuza and E233 Chuo line commuter train at Shinjuku

It figures that the weather would clear up the day I'm going home.  No pass today; I'm just using individual tickets.  I checked out of my hotel and put my bags in a locker at Shinjuku station.  Before catching the train to the east side of town, I managed to get a few pictures and video shots.  The Super Azuza was one really cool limited express that I never got around to riding.  I knew I would only get one shot at it so I took the video first as it was coming at me and then got the still shot right after the last car passed me.

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Views from the Tokyo Municipal Government building and series 205 on JR Saikyo line at Shinjuku

Next, I headed for the east side for one last look around Tokyo and Ueno stations.  At Tokyo, I went back to the bookstore where I got 2 of the 3 magazines yesterday and bought a DVD of the Shinkansen.  I knew I was taking a chance because I had no way of knowing whether or not it would play on my machine but I was pretty sure it would at least play on my computer.  What the hell, it was only 1575 Yen, a little less than $14.  A few years ago I sent away for some British train DVDs that turned out to be PAL formatted and wouldn't play on my machine but I needed a new computer anyway.  The computer I bought did play them and it played this one as well.  I think it was made for kids because of the way it was packaged and was narrated by a woman with a very high voice.  It turned out to be mostly run-by shots of all the Shinkansen trains with exterior shots of the major stations, which was pretty much what I had hoped for.

 

Back at Shinjuku, there was one more thing I was meaning to do and that was to take advantage of one of the free observation decks in the high rise buildings near my hotel.  I went to the Tokyo Municipal Office Building, where the 45th floor is open to the public.  The view was great in three directions but on the most important side, the east side, there was a bar and it was obvious you had to actually buy something before you could take any pictures.

 

While I was up there I got in some last minute shopping.  After 2 1/2 weeks here this was the first place I saw any postcards.  I figured that I'd be able to find them at the newsstands in the train stations or convenience stores, but hadn't seen any.  Maybe it was because I didn't go to the usual tourist places and wasn't willing to take too much time trying to find them.  When I was in Fukuoka, I had asked at the information booth in Hakata station and they directed me to a stationary store, but all they had were greeting cards.

 

I also picked up four N-gauge model train cars.  I got an 885 Kamome, a 251 Super View Odoriko and an E3 Tsubasa for myself and an E2 for a guy at work that's also into trains.  There were a couple others that I would have bought if they had them, particularly the 500 and Asagiri.  There were a couple places in Osaka that had a better selection but I didn't want to buy any thing until I got back to Tokyo.  Looking back, these must be the first model trains I've bought since the first time I was here in '77.

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Tobu Railway 10,030 local train at Ikebukuro and JR East 253 Narita Express at the airport

The last train of the trip was Narita Express #23, an all reserved train.  I got my ticket using a machine the same way I got the one for the 500 Nozomi.  That made the grand total of trains I rode on this trip 303, another all-time high for me.  My previous record was 246 when I sent three weeks Europe in '95.  My original goal was at least 250 but I figured I might have a shot at 300 if I really tried.  A lot of people would probably think I'm out of my mind to ride that many trains but give me a rail pass and nobody to answer to and I'll do it.  Why did I ride that many?  Because I could and I felt like it. 

 

I don't think I would have made it to 300 if it hadn't rained so much in Tokyo.  With better weather, I would have spent more time walking around, taking pictures and also gone to an amusement park.  As a matter of fact, I only used 13 of the 18 rolls of film I brought with me.  I spent most of the ride writing postcards which wouldn't get to their destinations until long after I got home.

 

Looking back, I asked myself, was it worth it?  Of course it was.  Did I accomplish everything I wanted to?  Not really but even if I'd stayed for a whole month, I wouldn't.  However, I did ride on just about every train I wanted to.  Not only that I was able to make this a completely bus and taxi free vacation.  Would I go back again?  Definitely, if for no other reason to go to Hokkaido.  Maybe it's better that way, to give myself an incentive to come back.

 

I don't want to go home, maybe I should just stay here until my life savings run out, just so I don't have to get on that airplane.  Nah, I have to get my pictures developed and see how the mini DVDs I shot look on my TV.  And let's not forget I have to type up my train log on Excel.  From now on, the flight home, going through customs and getting home from the airport will be a chore.  When I got off the train at Narita Terminal One, the vacation was officially over.

Click Here for More Pictures by Saul of this trip.



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